State of the world – bad
The atomic bomb the United States Air Force dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 was 15 kilotons. It killed approximately 140,000 people. The bomb that the United States Air Force dropped 3 days later on August 9th on the city of Nagasaki was 25 kilotons and killed perhaps 40,000 people. It would have killed more but the geography of the city was problematic. In any case, there is still debate over the exact numbers of those who died on those two days or from radiation sickness in the years following.
Today, there is intense talk of possible use of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons by Putin in Ukraine. A recent NYtimes headline read: ‘In Washington, Putin’s Nuclear Threats Stir Growing Alarm‘ and the subhead went on to say that ‘U.S. officials are gaming out responses’.
It’s probably impossible to know exactly the size of nuclear weapons that could potentially be used in Ukraine. But we gain a little insight by looking at the poetically named ‘W54’, a small nuclear weapon developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in California in the late 1950s:
“The W54 warhead…weighed just 51 pounds and was the smallest and lightest fission bomb (implosion type) ever deployed by the United States, with a variable explosive yield of 0.01 kilotons (equivalent to 10 tons of TNT, or two to four times as powerful as the ammonium nitrate bomb which destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995” –GlobalSecurity
‘The US is the most warlike country on earth’
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who just had his 98th birthday, was quoted on twitter as saying: “Since we normalized relations with China in 1979, the US has been in constant war. China has not been in combat with anyone.” “[The US] is the most warlike country on earth.”
Carter was speaking the simple truth. For decades we’ve been waging nonstop wars on the periphery of the empire. Up until now, the overwhelmingly vast majority of US citizens have remained insulated from the consequences of these wars. American citizens have only the dimmest awareness that their country is waging wars anywhere and zero awareness of the tragic consequences for those who suffer them.
“The United States has about 200 tactical nuclear gravity bombs with explosive yields adjustable between 0.3 and 170 kilotons. (The yield of the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons.) The Pentagon deploys about 100 of those bombs, called the B61, in five European countries: Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, and the Netherlands.” –Union of Concerned Scientists
Back in the heart of the empire we are so distracted by our culture war squabbles and Kim Kardashian style entertainment that we barely notice that billionaires are grabbing everything in sight. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the billionaire class has squeezed another massive transfer of wealth out of the rest of the population, on a scale similar to what we saw after the financial collapse of 2008.
The tech giants continue to perfect the surveillance net that they have draped over us. Amazon continues to expand into new areas. For some of us not only is our food provided by Amazon, but our healthcare as well.
In another weird symptom of decline we can read about how the scourge of Polio is back.
Inequality has spiraled to stratospheric levels. We have learned to live with this. In fact it has become so normalized that we are too desensitized to see it for what it really is—a slow motion, human-caused disaster. Discontent occasionally bubbles up to the surface, for example with Occupy in the US, Yellow Vests in France or the popularity of demagogues like Trump. But generally, media and the prevailing centrist opinion that calls itself ‘leftist’ dismiss these outbursts as signs of right wing fascism. There seems to be no effort made to genuinely evaluate the grievances behind the populist unrest. So the grievances remain, like open sores.
U.S. hegemony is being threatened from many directions at once. Let’s not mislead ourselves to imagine that the American empire is going to go down quietly.
In the past, when social grievances reach a boil like they do today, and the masses begin to stir, leadership reaches for the traditional solution—war.
We haven’t evolved, and current events are the best proof of the immutability of biology
We may think we’ve evolved or that somehow we’ve reached the end of history. We may delude ourselves into thinking that the lessons of the past no longer apply. Yet tribalism and conflict are still the order of the day. No amount of postmodern social constructivism is going to allow us to identify out of this hardwired behavior.
It may be a myth that lemmings jump off cliffs—but humans do it for real
In spite of endless comparisons with 1939, we can learn more by looking at events leading up to World War I. Push the nationalism button and we react with the same fear and hatred as the people of 1914. In 1914, each side was certain that they were the only one who truly had god on their side. The European masses rushed enthusiastically over the abyss.
They didn’t go reluctantly. Participation in this mass slaughter was honored as the most courageous and moral of behavior. White feathers, or the equivalent, were deployed to shame anyone who might be hesitant to join in.
““The working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war,” Debs declared. “If war is right, let it be declared by the people – you, who have your lives to lose.” Unfortunately, Eugene Debs was partly right and partly wrong. The working class allows itself to be sold a bill of goods, time after time. It signs on to the wars that go so profoundly against its own interests.
In 2022, we find ourselves once again braying for war. Instead of standing up to the oligarchs who are pillaging and destroying the planet, we’ve handed in our critical thinking and caught a possibly terminal case of war fever. No different from generations past, our tribalism mixes with the oldest, crudest instincts of machismo, and we delude ourselves into thinking that the resulting toxic brew is ‘courageous’ and ‘moral’.
“Meanwhile Russia has nearly 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons with a broad range of yields, from very low to over 100 kilotons. These can be delivered by air, ship, and ground-based systems, some of which also deliver conventional weapons. For example, some of the missiles Russia has used against Ukraine can also carry nuclear warheads, increasing the potential for confusion.” –Union of Concerned Scientists
Don’t count on there being any grownups hidden behind the curtain who will look after us to make sure everything doesn’t spiral out of control.